VENTURING INTO A NEW PROJECT
The seven-mile hairpin-twisted road climbing uphill and deep off the main road into the isolated community seems to take forever to reach. Dirt road quickly turns to gravel; gravel turns to small stones; small stones turn to large rocks; large rocks turn to large chunks missing from the road as we proceed slowly over washed-out gullies created during the rainy season.
I sit in the back seat of the engineer’s car waiting for word on when we abort his vehicle altogether and begin hiking on foot before we get a flat tire or bottom out.
Along this narrow, one-lane road we pass two small churches, one Pentecostal and one Evangelical. Houses slowly begin to appear, strung along both sides of the road scattered in no recognizable pattern. In some areas they are clustered together, in others more isolated.
At last we reach the community building a half hour after our expected time of arrival. The locals are gathered in an outdoor space under a roof waiting to greet us.
Several sewing machines buzz off to the side next to a building which serves as the factory of one of the key members of the community whose business is making school uniforms. Today they are sewing navy blue pants. Inside is a girl cutting out the cloth patterns. A woman and two young men are working diligently on the machines lined up outside, presumably to catch some air. I tease the guy working at the middle machine that he has the hardest job when I see he is responsible for sewing in the pants zippers. A large completed pile sits beside the last machine in the assembly line.
Members of the community offer each of us – U.S. Rotary members, engineer, translator, Salvadoran Rotary members, me – a plastic chair. The local community members who take turns speaking to us include municipal authorities, members of the Metalillito water committee, and recipients of the first seven latrines that have been installed in this project which we are here to represent.
Three generations of people are present today to welcome us. A young girl bounces on her dad’s knee, and elderly people wait patiently for their turn to speak. It is refreshing to note the genuine interest of the young man in his twenties who speaks on behalf of the water committee.
A group of about 15 locals gather, and I assume one or two of them would speak. I am wrong. Every person present takes a turn speaking! The attitude each person expresses is one of deep and abiding gratitude for this latrine project. The humility emotionally moves me to well up in tears as each one tells our group, “We have no way we can possibly re-pay you for this.” They refer to the latrines as “beautiful.” These remarks leave me stunned and dumb-founded. These are simple outdoor latrines, not flush toilets we in the States take for granted.
The engineer on this project, Ricardo Barrera, has gone far beyond the expectations for his job. He has done more than scope sites for the latrines, order the materials, and orchestrate the construction. Ricardo has prepared this community by educating them about the ecological importance of having latrines. He both wrote and illustrated a booklet that is “user friendly” for the local people, explaining what they are, why they are important, how they work, how to maintain them, and how to use the compost. Under his guidance and encouragement the community has formed its own committees to make the key internal decisions. They are invested in this project; it is THEIR project. Perhaps most important Ricardo has worked diligently to establish a level of trust with the local community and with both Rotary Clubs involved.
After we listen to the thankful community members speak today, they eagerly escort us to see for ourselves some of the latrine installations already built. I remind myself why we are here — to raise the standard of living for this small community to a more acceptable level, to decrease the soil and water contamination, to improve the health of the community, to foster a long-term relationship between two international community groups.
We are here to pledge that this is the beginning of an ongoing commitment to this community of 3,000 Salvadorans. As a symbol of this pledge, the U.S. Rotary team presents a small banner to a member of the Salvadoran Rotary club.
We are hopeful that this project will serve as a catalyst that encourages other clubs to undertake similar projects.
Before we depart, all join hands in a circle, bowing our heads in prayer led by a Salvadoran community leader.
Writer for project – On behalf of Mechanicsburg, PA Rotary Club # 5353